Horsemen: Don't Forget Santa Anita Barn Area

The frontside and backside clashed during a Breeders' Cup press conference Oct. 28.

Before the Oct. 28 post-position draws for the Breeders' Cup Classic and Distaff (both gr. I), Keith Brackpool, chairman of West Coast operations for Santa Anita Park owner The Stronach Group, stood in the remodeled Chandelier Room at the track and touted the pricey improvements.

Then, about a half-hour later in the adjacent and remodeled sports book Breeders' Cup trainers, who had assembled for a press conference about their horses, panned Santa Anita for not improving conditions in the barn area.

It was a reminder of the ongoing disconnect between frontside and backside operations in Thoroughbred racing, at least when it comes to capital improvements.

"We've done an extraordinary amount of work here," said Brackpool, who left as chairman of the California Horse Racing Board to take the job with Frank Stronach's racing and gaming company. "It's a merger of the past with the current millennium of the sports book next door.

"At the end of the weekend I hope the only thing we can say is, 'Was this not the best weekend of sport at a racetrack?' What could possibly be better than the weekend ahead of us?"

For horsemen, the answer to that question could be barn area renovations. They said they appreciate the money spent on grandstand and clubhouse improvementsabout $12 million worthbut said more must be done.

Their comments came after Santa Anita publicity director Mike Willman asked them for their thoughts on the capital improvements.

"They did well with the all the remodeling, but the backside really needs some work," trainer Eric Guillot said. "When Stronach was talking about selling the track years ago, a lot could have been done, but it wasn't."

"We've got to concentrate on things that will keep us going in the right direction," said trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who serves as a member of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. "It's a beautiful thing (on the frontside), but if you walk around the barn area with owners, it's embarrassing."

The Santa Anita barn area has been a sore spot with the CHRB for some time. In 2007 regulators were expecting a detailed capital improvement plan for the stable area but were told by Magna Entertainment Corp., which morphed into The Stronach Group, the money would be spent on other development on the property. That project never materialized.

The Stronach Group is, however, spending about $5 million on renovations at its San Luis Rey Downs training center in northern San Diego County to accommodate some horses that will be displaced when stabling ends at Hollywood Park in early 2014.

If there are serious concerns about the Santa Anita barn area, they haven't impacted the track's ability to attract the Breeders' Cup World Championships. Santa Anita hosted the event in 2012 and will do so again in 2014, which makes for a three-year run.

This year will mark Santa Anita hosting the Cup for a record seventh time.